GRAINS OF TRUTH
This artist’s worth his salt
His family took it with a pinch of salt when their son said he was going to become an artist – but four years later, Percy Maimela is showing he had more than a grain of sense.
South Africa’s premier “salt artist”, who will be participating in the People’s Port Festival this weekend, popped into Weekend Post on Friday to serve up an appetiser for his magical show.
Working quickly and easily with a paintbrush and quarter of a bottle of the best of Marina Lighthouse – and peppering his conversation with jovial asides – he explained how he had launched his unusual career one lunch hour during a slow day at the general merchandise store he was working at in 2014, in the Tshwane township of Mabopane where he was born.
“I was roaming around the shop looking for a way to kill the time when I spotted a bag of salt which had spilt some of its contents on the ground. I sat down on the floor next to it and took out a photograph I had on my phone of this interesting-looking guy with dreadlocks, and began to see if I could ‘draw’ him.”
When he looked up 20 minutes later, his colleagues were clustered around him and they were as surprised as he was at the startling likeness he had achieved, he said.
Maimela had dabbled in drawing at school and was reminded of how much enjoyment it gave him. So he resigned from his job and told his family he was going to become an artist.
“I don’t come from an artis- tic family, so it was a challenge to tell them that. They were sceptical. But I think they appreciate now what I am doing.”
Maimela, 33, said he had spent a day or two calculating how many customers he would need and how much money he could earn before realising he simply had to go out and get commissions.
He did and the money began to flow in. TV stations covered his work, prompting more commissions and then he became involved in performance art, creating large salt artworks at public venues and events, focusing on portraits of famous people but also of ordinary people and of animals.
His favourite was of the great German scientist Albert Einstein, he said.
“I did it in the mall in Middelburg [Mpumalanga]. It took me three hours and I was very pleased by the detail and the different tones I managed to put in.”
Drawing was in fact the science of arranging shapes in space, he agreed.
“But I don’t think when I work. Why think? I was made to draw.”
He said he liked the challenge of turning a product that was present in every home into something different.
“In this time of huge unemployment, I am sending a message to South Africans which says ‘recycle, convert, think differently’.”
Maimela also works in pencil and charcoal and is set to host a December 3 to 15 exhibi-
PINCH OF MAGIC: Salt artist Percy Maimela creates a picture of Zizonke May. Maimela focuses on portraits of famous people but also of ordinary people and of animals